Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

Tears flowed and hugs were shared as friends and families sent off the 17-member team of the Trek4Mandela climbers who start their monumental hike on Mount Kilimanjaro on Sunday.

The send-off was held on Saturday morning at the OR Tambo International Airport's viewing deck, a few hours before the team boarded the SAA 186 flight to Dar Es Salaam at 10am.

Trek4Mandela, is an expedition run by Imbumba Foundation in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Caring4girls, with aims of raising funds to buy sanitary towels for underprivileged schoolgirls.

KayaFM jock and Idols presenter Proverb, who has summited Kilimanjaro twice, was the MC at the event while pupils from Tembisa's Winnie Mandela Secondary School entertained with music.

Unlike the 2018 expedition, this one is mostly dominated by novice climbers.

While encouraging his troops, expedition leader and mountaineer Sibusiso Vilane, said discipline and respect for the 8m mountain are important.

"Listen to the guides. That mountain doesn't go around looking for people, people look for it. You have to humble yourself to it. Respect it," said Vilane.

Paige Lindenberg, who summited in 2018, said although the journey to the peak would be tough, the experience is life-changing and worth the climbers' while.

"You are going to encounter many moments of asking yourself 'why am I putting my body through this. Why did I decide to do this, why is it so cold?'.

"I'll tell you why. You have chosen to do something greater than anything you have ever done in your life. You have chosen to climb a mountain for those that can't. You have chosen to show every girl and young woman that no mountain is too high. Here is the truth, it ain't easy. You will go through literal blood, sweat and tears every single day of this adventure. You will challenge yourself physically, but emotionally more than anything. You will come back a changed person, a better person," said Lindenberg, fighting back her tears.

Imbumba CEO Richard Mabaso said the initiative was important in ensuring that girls are protected and given the same opportunities as boys.

"Underprivileged girls can't go to school because their families can't afford to buy sanitary towels. Every girl that falls through the cracks (school) will be our problem in the future. They will overburden social grants and that means you and I will have to pay more tax for their upkeep. Every step that you will take on that mountain, you will take it on behalf of a girl child," said Mabaso.

The group is expected to summit on Thursday, July 18 before they return on Saturday.

The next team, with former public protector Thuli Madonsela, is expected to go to Mount Kilimanjaro in August.

Those wishing to participate in next year’s Trek4Mandela expedition can contact Nkateko Mabale on 066 214 2520 or email [email protected]

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